Movie Diary 1/15/2018

treadsoftlyThere is a UK cable station called Talking Pictures. It carries a whole bunch of obscure Brit-related movies, and after each film a voiceover says, “Thank you for supporting film history.” I have been unable to resist.

Marilyn (aka Roadhouse Girl, Wolf Rilla, 1953). The new mechanic (Maxwell Reed) walks into an unhappy marriage between the petrol-station owner and a bored wife (Sandra Dorne). It looks like the set-up to The Postman Always Rings Twice, and some of it plays like that, but we also have two other people who fixate on the bored wife (including a bon vivant who happens to stop by the station on the night of the murder; he’s played by Ferdinand Mayne, the well-traveled actor whose filmography includes The Fearless Vampire Killers and Barry Lyndon). From the director of Village of the Damned.

Blackout (Robert S. Baker, 1950). More Maxwell Reed, as a temporarily blind man who walks into a murder scene and – although he can provide no visual clues to the killers – decides to go about solving the crime. Who was Maxwell Reed? Apparently he had real youth-culture popularity in the late 1940s, and also married Joan Collins in 1952. (In 2014 Collins said that he had drugged and raped her on their first date.) Very tall and dark-haired with a Robert Mitchum vibe of sarcasm beneath the manly action. According to Imdb he modeled his style after Stewart Granger, so that works too. The movie does a lousy job of giving the hero a reason to keep investigating the murder, but otherwise has a pleasant noir atmosphere.

Tread Softly Stranger (Gordon Parry, 1958). Missing money, a factory heist, two brothers vying over the same woman. And she is Diana Dors, the UK’s Marilyn Monroe. In short, there is a lot to enjoy here, and the movie’s got a humdinger of an ending. George Baker and Terence Morgan are the brothers, one rakish, the other, well, an accountant. Photographed by Douglas Slocombe, and between the studio-built rooftops outside a modest flat to location shooting at a real, spark-spewing factory, it looks great.

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Phantom Paddington (This Week’s Movies)

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Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis: Phantom Thread (courtesy Focus Features)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

Phantom Thread. “Blooms with possibilities the longer it goes on.”

Paddington 2. “Supplies a happy ration of kid-friendly slapstick, grown-up jokes, and a batch of the most recognizable actors in Britain.”

For Film Comment, I interviewed cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen in November at the Camerimage Film Festival in Bydgoszcz, Poland. The enthusiastic DP speaks of her work on Molly’s Game, Fences, The Hunt, and other films, and describes growing up on a Danish farm and the pleasures of telling a story with pictures. Read it here.

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Charlotte Bruus Christensen

Movie Diary 1/10/2018

The Final Year (Greg Barker, 2017). Inside the Obama foreign-policy team during the last year of the president’s second term, with the focus on John Kerry, Samantha Power, and Ben Rhodes. The ostensible subject is interesting, but it’s gradually overshadowed by the ticking sound of a bomb that we all know will detonate in November 2016. (full review 1/17)

The Frightened City (John Lemont, 1961). British crime picture about a mob accountant (suave Herbert Lom) bringing together London mafia chiefs for shared criminal enterprise. Their enforcer is Sean Connery, still with a lean and hungry look in a pretty big role a year before Dr. No. Yvonne Romain (Curse of the Werewolf) is the woman who distracts Connery from his boring nice girlfriend; John Gregson plays the cop on the case. Well-executed gangster thing.

Man in the Attic (Hugo Fregonese, 1953). A re-working of The Lodger, with Jack Palance as the new arrival in the boarding house. Serviceable at best, but worth seeing for Palance’s tortured performance; he spends most of the film with his head about to explode.

Movie Diary 1/9/2018

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Whirlpool (Lewis Allen, 1959). Not sure where to start with this one. Juliette Greco is involved in crime, probably because of nasty boyfriend William Sylvester. She escapes a bad situation by hitching a ride on a Rhine river barge with blond-mustached cap’n O.W. Fischer (big Germanic star of the time) and boatmate Marius Goring, with the police trailing and boyfriend lurking on shore. The film seems fascinated by the fact that Greco wears blue jeans while on board, and so do all the male characters, who fall for her. Lots of location shooting in color by Geoffrey Unsworth. The riverboat looks palatial inside. Greco has many unpredictable line readings, and sings a little, though it’s hard to see how she kept a straight face through everything. Lewis Allen directed the great ghost film The Uninvited, and had mostly slid into television by this time. Sylvester is the American actor who spent much of the meat of his career in England; he’s indelible as Dr. Heywood Floyd, the fatuous space expert, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, so much so that when he comes on screen in something else it’s like watching the Kubrick film intrude on another movie. Worth a look? Absolutely.

Movie Diary 1/8/2018

The Interrupted Journey (Daniel Birt, 1949). A real noir find here. Frustrated would-be novelist Richard Todd decides to run away with his mistress, but loses his nerve and pulls the emergency cord on the train during the escape. He leaps off and runs back home to his wife (Valerie Hobson, from Bride of Frankenstein and The Spy in Black), literally across a field from where the train stopped. Then the train crashes, and man, it gets sticky from there. Beautifully shot by Edwin Hillier, who did a couple of Powell-Pressburger titles.

The Weaker Sex (Roy Ward Baker, 1946). Wartime perseverance, seen through a household dominated by women, among them Ursula Jeans and Joan Hopkins, the latter in a large, determined role that would seem to be a launching pad to a bigger career, except she did almost nothing else in films. Also shot by Edwin Hillier, and very nicely.

Maudie (Aisling Walsh, 2016). Strong performances by Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke in this true story of eccentric Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis; both actors draw humor out of a story that would not seem to have much. Hard to beat the locations, too.

 

I, Lovers (This Week’s Movies)

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Margot Robbie: I, Tonya (courtesy Neon)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

I, Tonya. “This is not complexity, this is trying to have it both ways.” (Herald link here.)

I wrote a very brief appreciation of Azazel Jacobs’ The Lovers for Film Comment‘s year-end issue; it’s online here. I only wish I’d mentioned Mandy Hoffman’s music.

Also a long piece for the online Film Comment: An interview with cinematographer Sam Levy, the DP of Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy, three Noah Baumbach films, and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, a movie that will get him a lot of work. I interviewed Levy at the Camerimage Film Festival in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in November, and we got into some nitty-gritty about what a cinematographer does (including a beaut of a story about an early shot in Wendy and Lucy). Read it here.

 

Movie Diary 1/3/2018

Splendor (Elliott Nugent, 1935). Interesting Samuel Goldwyn production, written by the popular Broadway playwright Rachel Crothers. A New York aristocratic family needs son Joel McCrea to marry a wealthy woman; instead, he weds lovable but penniless Miriam Hopkins. The family will now manipulate Hopkins into sordid behavior to bail them out. This family is so hoity-toity that despite being American they have a son played by David Niven. The film’s got some dandy one-liners, and Nugent captures a lively interplay among the actors. Gregg Toland photographed.